Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sun Valley: Cell tower is a go

City Council trumps negative review by P&Z

Express Staff Writer

A ?story? pole, which looks exactly like the cell tower Edge Wireless is now allowed to erect, was put in place to give Sun Valley residents an idea of the visual impact. The City Council approved an appeal by the wireless carrier, which in December saw its plan get a thumbs-down from the Planning & Zoning Commission. Photo by Willy Cook

Edge Wireless will get the opportunity to install a cell phone communications tower in Sun Valley, despite a decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month that it should not.

The City Council on Thursday, Jan. 17, approved an appeal by the wireless service provider, which allows the company to erect a 20-foot pole, approximately 3 inches in diameter, beside the Sage Creek water pump house. The pole would have two panels attached at the top that each measure approximately 1.5 feet by 3 feet. In addition, Edge Wireless will fully enclose the pump house, in order to safely store necessary electronic equipment.

Community Development Director Mark Hofman said the P&Z's December denial of the conditional use permit and design review applications stemmed from the visual impact that the tower would have on the neighborhood.

"However, the council felt differently than the P&Z," Hofman said. "This was chosen as the least obtrusive design, with the most diminutive technology."

Hofman explained that the city agreed that Edge demonstrated that there was a gap in cell coverage in Sun Valley, especially in the Elkhorn area, leaving the visual impact as the sole sticking point.

"This is a subjective decision and it's a fine line," Hofman said. "But we have a very good process. The views, hillsides and environment are why we live here, so the staff takes this very seriously. We looked at it very thoroughly."

A number of residents were in attendance, both in support and against the tower, touting the contesting needs of better coverage and maintaining the rural character of the city.

While city leaders voted to move ahead with the project, they also put a condition on the design review for the applicant to work with the Sun Valley-Elkhorn Association, other neighbors and the city to create a landscape plan that will minimize the visual impact of the pole.

"The intent is not to hide it," Hofman said. "Most likely, they will add some well-placed, sparse native trees."

Hofman said there is a Feb. 15 submittal deadline for this plan, which will be followed by a building permit application.

He said Edge Wireless could start construction in March.

Further concerns were raised over the possibility of "co-locating," in which another carrier would use the same pole to provide service, adding to the number of panels attached at the top. Hofman said the city can't deal with this issue until another carrier comes before the city and that the visual impact would have to be looked at once again.

In other Sun Valley news:

· The City Council approved a contract for $16,000 of in-kind services with 48STRAIGHT, the event company putting on the Jeep King of the Mountain ski and snowboard competition, formerly known as the Honda Ski Tour.

The city's donation will come largely in the form of police and emergency services during the this year's event, which will take place in Sun Valley and Ketchum March 14 to March 16.

· The council approved a $30,000 contract for services with the Ketchum Parks and Recreation Department, which will be used to help fund year-round children's recreation programs.

Ketchum Parks and Recreation Director Kirk Mason said that approximately 30 to 40 kids from Sun Valley participate in the 116 different programs that are offered, 90 percent of which are athletic.

· Mayor Wayne Willich appointed Councilman Nils Ribi as the city's liaison to the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce and Dewayne Briscoe as liaison to the Blaine County Housing Authority.

Willich tabled appointments to the Planning & Zoning Commission, in order to have more time to speak with candidates.

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